YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

March 28, 2013

“Power,” Foucault, and other aristocratic radicals

Foucaltcard03For those interested in how others interpret “power” in socio-political terms see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_(social_and_political).

Several Facebook friends have expressed concern about “power,” seemingly equating it with illegitimate desires for malevolent control over other persons. Such notions of total control are usually implied in the notion of “totalitarianism” especially as the latter word equates communism and Nazism (a notion that I have challenged here: http://clarespark.com/2012/10/15/orwell-power-and-the-totalitarian-state/.)

This blog tries to sort out how one fashionable academic ideology abuses the notion of “power.”

Postmodernists/poststructuralists and Foucauldians. For these intellectuals, power is what the bourgeoisie, through total surveillance, wields over hapless Others, and one of the “pomo” villains is the bourgeois Enlightenment figure of “Freud”. For instance, take these sentences from Terry Eagleton’s chapter in “Self-Undoing Subjects” in Rewriting the Self, ed. Roy Porter (Routledge, 1997): p.264. “Isn’t Freud all about the unfathomable subject of the unconscious, about the production of some eternally elusive psyche folded upon its own inscrutable depths?” This is a wild misreading of Freud, the inventor of psychoanalysis, as if he preached helplessness, not insight and potential cure in a collaborative relationship between psychoanalyst and analysand, wherein, through a variety of techniques, the patient would ultimately gain a measure of power over neurotic anxiety and psychogenic illnesses: “Where Id was, let Ego be!”*

Freud, even in his time, was a master in stepping outside the self to observe self-sabotaging subjectivity, but Eagleton has taken this power away from Freud and his followers, for like other contributors to this volume, there is no “self” except that which is constituted through dominant discourses in modern/bourgeois institutions intent on doing us in.

It is not irrelevant that Eagleton is writing from the Left, and that psychiatrists were incarcerated in the Soviet Union.

There is no doubt in my mind that numerous authoritarian forces push us around, diminishing political participation, or that language matters and can affect political and/or personal choices, not to speak of our emotional configurations, our loves and taboos, our sense of the possible and impossible. But to so drastically historicize “the self” to the point where we may not distinguish between sanity (having a relatively accurate grip on reality) and insanity (being ruled by delusions) is a romantic fantasy, and it is no accident that R. D. Laing’s name is mentioned in other articles in this volume, as if he were an accepted authority on mental illness, and not a marginal Romantic who saw schizophrenia as an adventure into the world made invisible by the uptight [bourgeois]. See http://clarespark.com/2012/02/19/the-romantic-repudiation-of-freud-co/.

foucault-info-panopticon

What is wrong with the Foucault/poststructuralist picture? Their panopticon makes no distinction between sectors of the bourgeoisie, for instance between classical liberals and social democrats, for the latter do favor “the watchbird state,” and their suspicious movements have been traced throughout this website, for instance here: http://clarespark.com/2011/01/02/the-watchbird-state/.

Many a “leftist” intellectual has more in common with displaced aristocrats than with the working class they claim to champion. (See http://clarespark.com/2012/10/11/the-other/.) While researching various social psychologists affiliated with the Roosevelt administration, I noted that some stigmatized the rising [crypto-Jewish] middle class as having a wicked yen for “power,” which they then “projected” upon minorities and women, even “business.” It was these potential quasi-fascist agitator-adoring usurpers who projected their illicit “will to power” upon favored authority figures, and knuckles were rapped accordingly. If you know your Nietzsche, you will recognize an aristocratic anti-plebeian ideology, one that spurned “history” as written by “the plebs.” Is it any accident that the sub-title of the anthology referenced above is “Histories from the Renaissance to the Present.” There is no one magisterial history dominating academia; there are only histories, or as is widely bruited about, only unreliable points of view. Granted that we all struggle with subjectivity, even seeking the power to see through ourselves and others, but to throw out a coherent self, able to make sense of her surroundings, to identify friends and enemies, is not only to kill off the author of literary texts (as some academics nail Foucauldians), but is a new peak (or low) in the annals of nihilism, one worthy of the Marquis de Sade himself.

*Another questionable reading of a classic text is found in Jonathan Sawday’s chapter “Self and Selfhood in the Seventeenth Century” (p.44), where he gets John Milton’s ambivalent reading of Satan all wrong: “Technology, invention, discovery, in Milton’s political poetics, are ideas associated with the absolutist, monarchical world of Hell.” I suppose Blake and Shelley were poor readers of Paradise Lost when they suggested that Milton was secretly of the Devil’s Party. A reminder that the regicide Milton was writing under censorship and could have been hanged for his role in the Interregnum.

Glenda Jackson, Marat/Sade

Glenda Jackson, Marat/Sade

About these ads

6 Comments »

  1. […]     “Discourse,” the favorite word of postmodernists who are unremittingly disdainful of panopticons and all other bourgeois innovations to perpetrate universal surveillance, the better to control our minds,  is described as “a social movement.” To the postmodernists, this is no big whoop. Speech is a performative act. Discourse creates reality. Genocide will be halted by one great inclusive conference, in which anti-Zionists and supporters of radical Islam presumably will be welcome to join the cultural anthropologists and hip philosophers. The exemplary multiplicity of interpretations (“truths”) the conference promises (that is pomospeak), along with the renewed Ivy-League enabled assault upon the modern critical tools that could help us analyze our institutions and ourselves, will leave us kinder, gentler world citizens. Your tax dollars are paying for this charade, boys and girls. (For a related blog see http://clarespark.com/2009/06/04/modernity-and-mass-death/, or http://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/.) […]

    Pingback by Foucault Follies Redux | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — January 20, 2014 @ 8:36 pm | Reply

  2. [...] http://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/  (to escape from panopticon surveillance, embrace the primitive, the pre-civilized.) [...]

    Pingback by Blogs on anarchism/punk/primitivism | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 16, 2013 @ 11:56 pm | Reply

  3. [...] say, increased life expectancy. (I have blogged about this incessantly, but bear with me, or see http://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/.) When I fought back in the Schaffer seminar, the much younger graduate students were silent, or [...]

    Pingback by This witch is not for burning: science as magic | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 14, 2013 @ 1:30 am | Reply

  4. Can’t you speak plain English? Or are you infatuated with your own brilliance?

    Comment by CharlieDarwin — April 11, 2013 @ 11:12 am | Reply

    • I reread the blog. Perhaps you refer to the people I quoted, especially Terry Eagleton, whose statement about Freud was indeed unintelligible. But the sentences I wrote are pretty straightforward.

      Comment by clarespark — April 11, 2013 @ 2:15 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Rubric Theme Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,090 other followers

%d bloggers like this: